Saturday, January 21, 2017

Our Fukuoka Christmas 6 - Nagasaki Redux : Urakami Cathedral, the 26 Martyrs Memorial, Oura Church and Kotai-ji Temple

Most tourists come to Nagasaki for its history -- on August 9, 1945  the second atomic bomb exploded over the city. 
But there's more to Nagasaki than just the atomic bomb -- it is where Christianity, more specifically Catholicism, was introduced to Japan as early as the 16th century.
Nagasaki was also where Christians were persecuted upon orders of the shogun
Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  Despite this,  pockets of resistance from "hidden Christians" kept the faith alive.

On our second visit to Nagasaki this December, we combined both experiences, a bit of history with
a bit of religion.
With our excellent Tours by Locals guide  Miyuki san, we took a short taxi ride from the Atomic Bomb Museum to the top of the hill to visit the famous Urakami Cathedral which was  situated a mere 500 meters from the bomb's hypocenter.  While the Cathedral is not too far from the Museum,
it is a steep uphill climb so a taxi is the easier way to go.

The Cathedral, which used to be the largest Catholic church in Japan, was originally built in the 1890s.  After the blast it was almost completely levelled except for a few pillars and statues that survived.  You can see some of these in the Atomic Bomb Museum and some within the church grounds.  The biggest pillar that remained relatively intact has been placed beside the Memorial for survivors in Peace Park, on the exact spot over which the bomb exploded.

Photos are not allowed inside so I can only share the few I took of the church facade and exteriors.
This bas relief on the front of the church shows  the "kakure kirishitan" or hidden Christians who
had to conceal their faith to avoid being exiled, tortured or killed.  The Cathedral was built to give these faithful a place of worship after the many years of persecution.

From the front of the church, you can see the the mountains and hills that surround Nagasaki
This type of  terrain helped protect the city from more destruction as the hills helped contain the bomb blast on the northern side. 

It was another short taxi ride to the 26 Martyrs Memorial.  Located on top of Nishizaka Hill,
the Memorial is dedicated to the 26 Japanese who were crucified here in 1597 upon orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
This horrible act marked the start of the cruel and avid persecution of Christians which would last throughout the Tokugawa era, well until the end of the 1800s.
The simple but moving bronze monument shows St. Paul Miki, a Jesuit and one of the first Japanese saints, along with his companion martyrs, their eyes raised, at the point where it seems their souls go up to heaven.

There is a Museum behind the monument and in front of it is a statue of our very own
San Lorenzo Ruiz,  who was also martyred in Nagasaki although not alongside the 26 Martyrs.
San Lorenzo is held in high esteem and revered by the Christians of Nagasaki and this small garden
in front of the Museum is dedicated to him.

Right beside the Memorial you can see the  Gaudi inspired twin spires of St. Philip's Church.
The church is where the bones of St. Paul Miki and St. John Goto are interred. 
Nagasaki has more than 100 churches -- more than enough for a pilgrimage.
Miyuki san mentioned that pilgrimages to Nagasaki are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among  Filipino tourists.

By shifting my view from the spires of the church, I saw this gigantic statue of the Kannon Buddha on the hillside.  Miyuki san said that it was situated in one of the Buddhist cemeteries nearby.
As you can see, it dwarfs the houses beside it.  It's standing on top of an equally huge turtle.

If you have just one day in Nagasaki and you want to do a mini-pilgrimage, the other must see is
on the south side of the city.  Oura Church now the Minor Basilica of Oura,  is the oldest  church
in Japan and pre-dates Urakami Cathedral by more than twenty years.
Unlike Urakami which did not survive the blast, Oura was located on the safe side of Nagasaki and thus escaped damage and destruction.
It was built in 1865 by a French priest,  Fr. Petitjean who aided the "hidden Christians" by giving them a  safe and secure place to worship.
Today, to help preserve the centuries old structure with its beautiful wooden interiors,  it is no longer used except for very special occasions.  A more modern church has been built nearby where masses are regularly held.
Oura Church has been designated as a Cultural Treasure by the Japanese government and as a Minor Basilica by the Vatican.

As in Urakami Cathedral, photos are not allowed inside the church.  This graceful marble statue 
of Our Lady is a replica of the original which is inside the church and came all the way from France.  

The stained glass rose windows are also from France, brought over when the church was being built.

This serene garden in front of the church has a statue of Fr. Petitjean along with a bust of  Pope John Paul II who visited Nagasaki as a pilgrim in 1981

When you visit Oura, do not fail to go to the small but excellent museum right behind the church.   Built by Fr. Petitjean, the building now houses photos, artefacts and other memorabilia from the time the church was built.  The most interesting for me were examples of the fumi-e -- these were small images of Jesus or Mary that  suspected Christians were made to step or trample on. If they refused, they would be found out as "hidden Christians" and severely punished by torture or even death.

Most well visited tourist spots in Japan have "shopping streets" attached to them.  Oura Church is not an exception.  The uphill path leading to the church is lined with shops selling local souvenirs and 
specialty foods and small cafes where one can have a drink and a snack. 

My delicious discovery of the day came from one of the shops along this road -- Iwasaki Honpo 
is the famous brand of steamed pork kakuni buns, a Nagasaki specialty.  
These buns are like our local cuapao but without any pickled mustard or chopped peanuts -- nothing but a meltingly tender braised piece of pork belly encased in a soft bun.  What an amazing find!  
I bought a pack of frozen kakuni buns back to the apartment in Fukuoka where we enjoyed it again a few nights after.

Those of you who have read other posts on this blog know that when in Japan, I try to go to as many temples and shrines that I can.  After visiting the churches, I asked Miyuki san to take me to at least one temple so I could have a seal for my shuin-cho or temple seal book.  We headed off to the Teramachi area where most of the Buddhist temples are. 

The Jesuits were the first Christians to discover Nagasaki in the 16th century.  They were followed by the Chinese who set up Buddhist temples in the area.   Thus,  the more well known temples in Nagasaki are heavy in Chinese influence in both style and architecture. 
I asked Miyuki san if she could bring me to the temple that looked most "Japanese" so she brought
me to Kotai-ji, a temple that belongs to the Soto-zen sect of Buddhism.

When you enter the temple gates, you will find the Daibutsu-den or Great Buddha Hall waiting for you at the top of the stone steps.  Miyuki san told me that Kotai-ji hosts zazen sessions every month and that she has attended at least once. 

Inside the Daibutsu-den is this peaceful and calm figure of the Buddha Vairochana.  It stands over three meters tall and sits atop a lotus flower.  I found out later from the monk who stamped my 
shuin-cho that this statue is over three hundred years old.

As we head out of Kotai-ji, we met this very fat and friendly temple cat who just didn't seem to want to let us go.

He even lay down right by my feet, purring in contentment as I rubbed his thick, clean fur.

But we had a train to catch to take us back to Fukuoka and I think the monks would have missed him terribly if I had "cat-napped" him.  See you again, Neko chan -- maybe in one of your next nine lives or perhaps on my next visit to Nagasaki. 

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